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Contest For Cartoons of Prophet Muhammad Draws Concern

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GARLAND (CBSDFW.COM) - After a Muslim event designed to combat Islamophobia gained controversy last month at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, the American Freedom Defense Initiative is planning an event at the Garland ISD facility of its own May 3.

An art contest displaying cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, and the winning entry will earn a $10,000 prize. "This is an exhibit for freedom and standing for freedom."

Pamela Geller is the event organizer. She has attracted controversy, but describes herself as a human rights activist.

Geller says "Pornography, obscenity, we're not interested. We're interested in culture and the role that this hot button is playing in free societies."

Most Muslim scholars say depicting the likeness of the Prophet Muhammad isn't allowed.

Alia Salem of the DFW Chapter of the Council of American Islamic Relations says supports free speech. "We should have free speech, and nobody's stopping her from doing this, go ahead, maybe there'll be some Muslims entering this, who knows."

But Salem says she hopes the Muslim Community will ignore this event. "While it is her right, it's not really in good taste to be honest because it's just a shameless attempt to get a reaction out of the Muslim Community, that's how we view it. It's not any attempt to promote free speech."

Geller says not enough Americans are speaking out for free speech and against the terror attack against the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo after they published cartoons of Muhammad.

"This is outrageous. This is savage and we here in the U.S. are going to stand with the editors of Charlie Hebdo. If you say Je Suis Charlie, you're going to have to mean it, it's not here to just hash-tag something, you got to walk the walk and you got to talk the talk because people are dying because of a cartoon."

Salem says she also strongly condemned the terror attack in France. "The very limited instances where I would agree with Pamela Geller would be this, that shouldn't have happened, that's not okay, that's not okay for someone to commit a crime because someone drew a cartoon for crying out loud."

Most of the residents we spoke with who live near the Culwell Center declined on-camera interviews about this event.

But Michael Soderlind expressed his concern. "Things are quiet let them stay quiet. There's no threat there. I'm not only concerned something will happen there, but that something could happen anywhere in our country."

Salem says, "If we do not unite and come together as a North Texas community, as an American community and deal with this hatred, we will not succeed in combating this kind of bigotry."

Geller says, "Who gets to decide what is hate speech and what is not hate speech? We will not be cowed by intimidation, and by violence, and by jihad."

(©2015 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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